A Who's Hooo...

Emily White


With their huge, round yellow eyes, haunting calls and nearly silent flight, owls command our awe, as do few other birds. We are lucky indeed if we have them in our neighbourhoods, for they keep the rodents in check.

Owling in our own backyards here in southern Ontario is not a far-fetched idea. Eastern Screech owls are suited to both rural and suburban settings, and are often found in city parks. Great Horned Owls are remarkably adaptable and are often seen in parks and suburban neighbourhoods. The easiest cavity-nesting owl to attract to an urban setting is the Eastern Screech Owl. The standard nest box for screech owls, with a 3” entrance hole, is also suitable for American Kestrels.

The diminutive screech owl is a year-round resident of southern Ontario’s deciduous woodlands. Most screech owls sleep away the daylight hours snuggled safely inside a tree cavity or an artificial nest box. Despite its size, it’s an adaptable hunter. Insects, mice, birds, lizards, spiders and frogs are all on the screech owl’s menu. This little bird of prey is 8” long with a wingspan of about 2 feet. It is either grey or reddish in colour and has feathery tufts on top of its head that it erects when excited.

The Great Horned Owl is a formidable, primarily nocturnal hunter that uses its acute hearing and powerful vision to hunt a variety of prey. It is the only consistent predator of skunks due to its poorly developed sense of smell. The female’s wingspan can reach 5 feet, with the male’s being just slightly shorter. Plumage varies from very dark to very pale, depending on its habitat; with conspicuous ear tufts, barring on its breast and powerful talons. Great Horned Owls may begin their courtship as early as January when their hooting calls resound through urban parks and farmyards. By February and March, they are already incubating their eggs.

Owls’ large eyes are fixed in place so they must move their entire head to see up, down or to the side. They have adapted to this restriction by being able to turn their heads through an arc of 270 degrees.

With the onset of winter, Snowy Owls start to appear on rural fence posts, utility poles and barn roofs throughout the province. They are yearly visitors to Ontario, but their numbers can fluctuate quite dramatically. When lemming and vole populations crash in the Arctic, large numbers of Snowy Owls often venture south in search of food. They are big, mostly white birds with large, round heads and yellow eyes. In winter, they prefer open expanses similar to the habitat in which they breed. They are most often sighted on perches that command a view of the surrounding area.


Snowy Owls are primarily active early and late in the day with long midday rest periods. This is prime time for bird watchers to spot them. They are not particularly active at night, which makes sense since there is no night during arctic summers, and Snowy Owls are thought to hunt primarily by sight rather than sound.

Some of the other owls to be found in Southern Ontario in winter are the tiny Saw-whet Owl, the Long-eared Owl, and the Short-eared Owl. These species are often overlooked due to their cryptic plumage and reclusive habits.

Featherfields carries many items to help in your search for owls. Owl nesting boxes, field guides and binoculars will all increase the likelihood of an owl encounter.

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